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What\'s in you

Douglas Fischer

A casual observer of Rowan Hammond Holland sees a little towhead, 
devilishly cute, who grins impishly while tossing food at the family dog.

A pediatrician sees a kid who\'s a bit small for his age: 30-odd inches 
tall, 22 pounds, about 10th percentile for 20-month-old boys.

But not even his mother could guess what\'s in his blood: flame 
retardants, at concentrations higher than measured almost anywhere in 
the world for someone not handling the stuff for a living.

He\'s a typical kid from a typical family, picked for an Oakland Tribune 
investigation of chemical pollutants in our bodies.

The surprising result, scientists say, suggests infants and toddlers 
have vastly higher levels of some chemical pollutants than health 
officials suspect — or even consider safe.

But no one can say. Rowan is the only toddler, at least in the United 
States, who\'s been tested for such things, despite evidence these 
compounds taint our blood, our food, our house dust, our kids.

This is our \"body burden\" our chemical legacy, picked up from our 
possessions, passed to our children and sown across the environment. 
It\'s the result, scientists say, of 50 years of increasing reliance on 
synthetic chemicals for every facet of our daily lives.

Only recently have regulators grasped its scope. Health officials have 
yet to fully comprehend its consequence.

We are all, in a sense, subjects of an experiment, with no way to buy 
your way out, eat your way out or exercise your way out. We are guinea 
pigs when it comes to the unknown long-term threat these chemicals pose 
in our bodies and, in particular, our children.

In the first study of its kind, Rowan and his family had their blood, 
hair and urine tested for a suite of chemical pollutants thought to be 
ubiquitous in our environment.

The tests showed PCBs, plasticizers, mercury, lead and cadmium in each 
family member. Chemicals used to make Teflon and GoreTex contaminated 
their blood. Mikaela, Rowan\'s 5-year-old sister, had more dibutyl 
phthalate — a plasticizer found in nail polish and cosmetics — in her 
urine than 90 percent of the 328 kids age 6-11 tested so far in the 
United States.

The shock was the family\'s level of a class of flame retardants — 
polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs — used in everything from TV 
casings to rugs to foam cushions. In the United States, where levels are 
10 to 100 times higher than the rest of the world, the average adult is 
thought to have 36 parts per billion in their blood.

A cocktail mixed at that concentration would have 36 drops of gin in a 
rail tank car of tonic. Rowan\'s mom, Michele Hammond, had 138 ppb. His 
dad, Jeremiah Holland, 102. His sister, 490. And Rowan: 838 ppb. 
Scientists start to see behavioral changes in lab rats at 300 ppb.

\"This is a very serious warning of very small children being heavily 
exposed,\" said Aake Bergman, professor of environmental chemistry at 
Stockholm University in Sweden and one of the world\'s foremost experts 
on human exposure to fire retardants. \"We may have many more people 
being exposed at similar levels.\" Proportions will vary, and indeed, a 
follow-up test of the Hammond Hollands found lower — but still alarming 
— PBDE levels in the children. A similar chemical stew can be found in 
every adult and child in the country, scientists say. The exposure comes 
courtesy of our lifestyle, in which synthetic chemistry imbues the 
modern world with convenience beyond that of any generation in history.

We make perfume from petroleum and preserve food in plastic. Our chances 
of dying in a building fire are almost nil. We clean bathrooms without 
scrubbing, spill coffee without worry of a stain.

Yet these modern wonders come with a price. As synthetic chemicals have 
saturated our lives, so too have they permeated our bodies.

We don\'t know the effect it has on our health. But scientists do have 

Autism, once an affliction of 1 in 10,000 children, today is the scourge 
of 1 in 166.

Childhood asthma rates have similarly exploded. And one in 12 couples of 
reproductive age in the United States is infertile.

One may not cause the other; to draw such links remains, for now, beyond 
the grasp of science. Industry and other scientists say exposure remains 
well below levels considered harmful — the Hammond Holland\'s numbers 
notwithstanding. Our ability to detect these compounds, invisible even 
five years ago, has outstripped our ability to interpret the results.

Publishing body burden data, in other words, does little but make people 

But if it was your 2-year-old, would you want to know?

Monday night at the Hammond Holland\'s Berkeley home, and life is quiet.

Jeremiah, 35, a high school photography teacher and coach of the 
school\'s mountain biking team, is away leading a team cycling class at 
the Berkeley YMCA.

Mikaela started kindergarten last fall and has mastered the alphabet, 
which she proudly shows off: big A\'s and little c\'s, small d\'s and 
capital Z\'s, painstakenly written by small fingers with remnants of red 
polish on the nails. The alphabet is in random order but amazingly complete.

Rowan is finishing dinner — corn, carrots, pasta with tomato sauce, 
hard-boiled egg yolk and cheese. He has dispensed with bib and utensils 
in favor of a more direct hand-to-mouth approach, announcing he\'s done 
by shoveling a big handful of spaghetti off his high-chair tray onto the 

Michele, watching, doesn\'t mind. The dog will get it. And at least Rowan 
is eating.

In February 2004, Rowan fell off the growth charts, registering below 
the zero percentile for kids his age. He\'s since held steady at the 10th 
percentile, but Michele, 36, says it\'s never been easy to get him to eat 
— or sleep.

His location at the lower end of normal and the upper end of active 
could be a simple result of genetics. Or it

could be his thyroid.

The danger of PBDEs, says Dr. Mark Miller, director of the Pediatric 
Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of California, San 
Francisco, is that they act as developmental neurotoxins and disrupt 
thyroid activity in rats and other lab animals. And they do so at levels 
one-third of Rowan\'s, say scientists at the state Environmental 
Protection Agency.

Michele, who figures her son is just a small, active kid, tries not to 
dwell on that thought.

Doctors such as Miller who specialize in environmental contaminants see 
no reason the family should have such high exposures. Researchers at 
Albemarle, a Louisiana-based manufacturer of brominated flame 
retardants, are equally mystified.

\"It\'s hard to interpret the results, yet so important,\" said Dr. Gina 
Solomon, associate director of Miller\'s UCSF clinic and a senior 
scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. \"The fact that (the 
family\'s) levels are on the high side is symptomatic of what\'s going on 
out there.\"

Swedish scientists such as Bergman first alerted ฎMDNMฏthe world to 
growing levels of PBDEs in our bodies. Researchers monitoring Swedish 
breast milk samples for a slew of contaminants found PBDE concentrations 
doubling every five years over the 1980s and 1990s.

The United States recently launched a similar program but it tracks only 
a dozen of chemical families and won\'t release PBDE data until 2007. 
Efforts to create a similar program in California for a suite of 
environmental contaminants, including PBDEs, were shot down last year 
after the state Chamber of Commerce labeled it a job killer.

But tipped off by the Swedes, researchers here found concentrations in 
wildlife, human blood and breast milk doubling even faster — every 18 

That\'s just fire retardants. And one type, at that.

There are organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, the pesticide that 
launched the modern environmental movement. Banned in the 1970s, they 
can be found today in our house dust, food and bodies.

PCBs, banned in 1979, similarly plague us. Decades worth of evidence 
shows these chemicals —predecessors of and close chemical cousins to 
PBDEs — don\'t belong in the body. Numbers have declined over the years, 
but they\'re there in Rowan and Mikaela and all of us — a lifetime\'s 
supply, courtesy of Monsanto Chemical Co, once the only domestic 

Also everywhere, but with little known of the health consequences, are 
phthalates — plasticizers that make lotions absorbable, nail polish 
pliable, cologne scented and plastic soft. Our kidneys filter them 
quickly from our body, but a daily replenishing shower from our material 
world keeps our bodies\' phthalate levels steady.

Then there\'s Teflon, GoreTex, Scotchgard and other non-stick and 
stain-repellent wonders. In 2000, 3M, the sole U.S. manufacturer of the 
two crucial ingredients necessary to make such products, announced it 
had found traces of one — perfluorooctane sulfanate — in virtually every 
human blood sample it had tested in the United States and Europe.

Sure enough, the two compounds turned up in the Hammond Hollands, too.

Michele is angry, but not worried. Not yet. \"If in the next year 
something goes wrong with Rowan, then I\'m all of a sudden going to freak 
out about these numbers,\" she said.

Michele is a classic naturalist, most at home in the field, where she 
identifies birds from their songs and can name the grasses underfoot. At 
the University of California, Berkeley, she researches grassland ecology.

She finds most frustrating her inability to protect her kids from the 
pollutants. If she wanted to curb Rowan\'s and Mikaela\'s exposures, 
Michele wouldn\'t know where to start.

Sources are everywhere, yet impossible to track.

PBDEs show up in foam cushions and plastic casings. But which ones? One 
manufacturer might use a brominated flame retardant, another might use 
phosphorous. There\'s aluminum trihydrates and magnesium hydrates. The 
label never says.

\"You can\'t make a universal judgment that just because it\'s a plastic, 
it has flame retardant,\" said Paul Ranken, senior research and 
development adviser for Albemarle, one of three domestic manufacturers 
of decaBDE, a brominated flame retardant.

\"Your house may be different from my house. Your carpeting might be 
different. You might have a little bit of polypropylene … I might have 
nylon.\" Phthalates (THAAL-ates) are similar. We need them to make 
plastics soft and flexible. Without them fragrances could not be 
dissolved into lotions and colognes. Ink would flake off bread bags. 
Your vinyl shower curtain would crack as you pulled it open.

But like PBDEs, some products have them. Some don\'t. Good luck trying to 
tell the difference.

\"The fact of life is that phthalates are a remarkably useful product 
that … allow people without a lot of money to have a first-world 
lifestyle,\" said Marian Stanley, manager of the Phthalate Esters Panel 
for the American Chemistry Council. \"The risk is a theoretical risk. If 
you had the smallest baby with the most exposure for the longest time, 
you theoretically have a risk. Practically, do you have a risk? Nobody\'s 
seen it yet.\"

But is anybody looking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting the only 
widespread biomonitoring program in the United States, looking at 
national exposure to pesticides, PCBs, dioxins and phthalates, among 
others. Its next report, cataloging some 148 compounds, is due later 
this spring. But there are gaps.

Its last report, released in 2003, summarized the results of 2,541 
people tested for dibutyl phthatalate, an additive found in nail polish, 
cosmetics, pill coatings, printing inks and, oddly, insecticides.

Of those, 328 were children under the age of 11. None were younger than 
6. Yet exposure increases as the age group gets younger, with kids 
between 6 and 11 on average having twice the level as adults over 20.

That\'s true with the Hammond Hollands. Mikaela\'s levels are three times 
her mom\'s and almost nine times her dad\'s.

\"There\'s not enough (information) to allow for big generalizations,\" 
said Solomon, the UCSF physician, who with Miller met with the family 
and helped interpret their results. \"What it does do is show the huge 
need for this information, both to allow us to put these results in 
context and also give us information on what\'s going on out there over 
time and over age groups.

\"We\'re blind to what\'s going on out there.\"

Forty-seven minutes in and Jeremiah\'s heart is churning at close to 180 
beats per minute. His legs blur against his stationary cycle, thighs and 
calves straining, as he leads his high school bike team through a Monday 
night \"spin\" class.

A furious beat thumps from the room\'s loudspeakers. Sweat pours off 
Jeremiah\'s nose. Flywheels spin, pedals whirl. Then the pitch jumps a 
notch as Jeremiah goads the teens and the pace, incredibly, picks up.

Two years ago Jeremiah weighed 237 pounds. Today he\'s 180. He went from 
a size 40 waistband to a size 34, which he last wore in high school.

His wedding suit is too big for him.

He shed those pounds on the bike trails, trying to keep up with his 
students. He gave up alcohol and started eating better.

PCBs, dioxins, DDT, PBDEs, phthalates all love fat. Which is one reason 
many stick around so long, sequestered in our waistlines.

So as Jeremiah\'s fat burned off, so, too, did some of his body burden, 
doctors surmise. It could explain why his exposures, in many instances, 
are lower than his children\'s.

He also — unwittingly — played a dangerous game, Solomon and Miller 
said. As the fat broke apart, contaminants were freed. Some got trapped 
by the bile and were eliminated. Some landed in other fat cells. And 
some likely migrated to nerve cells or the brain.

Michele, meanwhile, shed her body burden as only a woman can.

Breast milk is 4 percent fat. As Michele nursed Mikaela and then Rowan, 
she drained a life\'s accumulation of pollutants into her children.

Her PCB results show that most dramatically: Mikaela has 207 ppb — 
slightly more than her dad.

Rowan has 355. But Michele has 69.

That\'s no reason to stop breast-feeding, cautioned Kim Hooper, the state 
PBDE expert with Cal EPA who has done extensive work with breast milk. 
Quite the opposite. Because in addition to fat, breast milk contains 
essential vitamins, minerals, growth hormones, enzymes, proteins and 

Plenty of evidence also suggests Rowan and other children get a far 
bigger dose from their environment. Several studies have found dust 
studded with these contaminants in the part-per-million range — 100 to 
1,000 times what\'s found in humans. We all ingest a little dust daily, 
with children eating far more than adults due to higher hand-to-mouth 

The other big route to our bodies is food.

Three years ago, Arnold Schecter, a professor at the University of Texas 
School of Public Health, set out to show how much our diets contribute 
to our body burden.

He pulled 30 everyday items off the shelves of three Dallas 
supermarkets. They got sliced, diced and mashed to a pulp, washed in 
hexane, vaporized and shot into a high-resolution gas chromatograph. He 
found PBDEs in eggs, milk, steak and fish. He also found them in soy 
infant formula, albeit at a minuscule 16 parts-per-trillion  

In Emeryville, Richard Wenning is doing the same thing with chickens, 
finding no difference in PBDE levels between free-range organic hens and 
factory-farmed roasters.

The compounds are spread far and wide, in air and dust. They\'re taken up 
by plants, eaten by animals. We eat the animals and spread our sewage 
sludge back on the fields.

In this respect, organically grown food is no different from 
conventional, said Wenning, a principle at Environ International Corp., 
an environmental consulting firm advising industry and regulators. \"It\'s 
all recycled … Until we can actually break the molecules apart, they\'re 
going to come around again.\"

As Michele and Jeremiah look around their house and wonder, industry — 
and to a certain extent regulators — see red herrings.

It would make little sense to toss the family\'s hand-me-down polystyrene 
carpet or their recently purchased foam-and-coil mattress and replace 
them with all-natural products, even if they could afford it. Nobody 
understands how PBDEs migrate from your living room couch. Or if they 
even do.

Come summer, mother and daughter will still polish their toenails 
together, as they always have. With phthalates everywhere, would doing 
otherwise make any difference?

Not if the Tribune\'s lab results are any indication. Michele uses no 
cosmetics beyond nail polish, yet her level of mono-butyl phthalate — 
the body\'s byproduct of a compound common in beauty products _ sits 
above average for American women, based on CDC data.

The CDC cannot say whether that\'s good or bad for her health.

That, industry says, is the problem with trace analysis. We can see in 
the parts-per-trillion range, but we have little idea what it means. 
While consumers may be alarmed, industry looks at the numbers and sees 
the need for further study.

\"The science doesn\'t say (exposure) is going to grow to any level where 
we see concern anytime soon,\" said Ron Zumstein, vice president for 
health, safety and environment at Albemarle, the decaBDE manufacturer.

\"That\'s kind of how we look at it. You\'ve got a huge margin of safety.\"

Others note we didn\'t see epidemics 30 years ago, when DDT and PCB use 
were at their height. Teflon has been applied to pots since 1962, with 
no apparent problems from the compound or its precursors.

Zumstein and a crew of Albemarle scientists analyzed the Hammond 
Holland\'s PBDE results at the Tribune\'s request. They were skeptical.

The samples could have been contaminated, they said. There\'s no easy 
explanation for why the children would be so much higher than their 
parents, and the results don\'t seem to match what little we know about 

The EPA is assessing exposure risks and is expected to announce soon 
what it sees as the gaps in the research. Zumstein and his team say 
they\'re waiting for that before taking the next step.

\"The (family\'s) results are outside the range of what we\'ve seen,\" 
Zumstein said. \"We don\'t want to jump to conclusions if the science has 
not been scrutinized yet.\"

That\'s exactly what industry has been saying for years, contend critics 
seeking to reform U.S. chemical oversight.

We don\'t know what these chemicals do in our body. The science is still 
being scrutinized. Yet we still put these compounds in our products, 
expose them to our children, eat them daily for dinner.

In a country of 300 million, we know the levels of fire retardant in 
fewer than 200 individuals. Meanwhile annual worldwide demand for PBDEs, 
according to industry groups, was almost 150 million pounds in 1999, up 
67 percent from 1990. Half of that ends up in the U.S. market.

We have a legacy of reacting after the fact — lead, asbestos, mercury, 
ozone depletion.

Studies, notoriously difficult to construct, remain scarce. The federal 
government hasn\'t made funding such science a priority, declining, for 
example, to underwrite any studies of toxins in breast milk, Schecter said.

Would we curb our appetite — take more of a precautionary approach — if 
we all knew, like the Hammond Hollands, what lurks in our bodies?

\"I\'m not happy with a few data points. We cannot draw final conclusions 
from a family of four,\" said Bergman, the Swedish PBDE researcher. But 
\"this is an indication of a very serious problem that society has to 


1. CDC thimerosal findings in 1999 - subsequent data dilution -

text synopsis

full analysis, with charts

2. Till Luckenbach and David Epel. Nitromusk and Polycyclic Musk 
Compounds as Long-Term Inhibitors of Cellular Xenobiotic Defense Systems 
Mediated by Multidrug Transporters. Environ Health Perspect 113:17-24 

whole article:

Synthetic musk compounds, widely used as fragrances in consumer 
products, have been detected in human tissue and, surprisingly, in 
aquatic organisms such as fish and mollusks. Although their persistence 
and potential to bioaccumulate are of concern, the toxicity and 
environmental risks of these chemicals are generally regarded as low. 
Here, however, we show that nitromusks and polycyclic musks inhibit the 
activity of multidrug efflux transporters responsible for 
multixenobiotic resistance (MXR) in gills of the marine mussel Mytilus 
californianus. The IC10 (concentration that inhibits 10%) values for the 
different classes of musks were in the range of 0.09-0.39 ตM, and IC50 
values were 0.74-2.56 ตM. The immediate consequence of inhibition of 
efflux transporters is that normally excluded xenobiotics will now be 
able to enter the cell. Remarkably, the inhibitory effects of a brief 
2-hr exposure to musks were only partially reversed after a 24- to 48-hr 
recovery period in clean seawater. This unexpected consequence of 
synthetic musks--a long-term loss of efflux transport activity--will 
result in continued accumulation of normally excluded toxicants even 
after direct exposure to the musk has ended. These findings also point 
to the need to determine whether other environmental chemicals have 
similar long-term effects on these transporters. The results are 
relevant to human health because they raise the possibility that 
exposure to common xenobiotics and pharmaceuticals could cause similar 
long-term inhibition of these transporters and lead to increased 
exposure to normally excluded toxicants. Key words: chemosensitizers, 
fragrances, MDR, multidrug resistance, multixenobiotic resistance, MXR, 
Mytilus californianus, nitromusks, polycyclic musks.

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